Shadowrunning the Dungeon

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I’ve only played Shadowrun a few times. Most of them have been with the same group of people. Our playstyle focused upon extensive recon and planning, and – while that style of game might annoy some people – I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Yesterday, I got to thinking about how that playstyle could be merged with a dungeon crawl. It doesn’t seem that far off. Many Shadowrun adventures involve breaking into and stealing things from office buildings, factories, warehouses, or mansions. Those aren’t that different from dungeons, are they?

Well, sort of.

In published adventures, dungeons tend to be closed systems (or close to it). They don’t do a lot of business with the outside. They don’t receive deliveries. The inhabitants don’t all go out to lunch on reliable schedules, much less go home at night. There aren’t phone lines, power lines, or data lines that can be tapped into and monitored. They often aren’t visible from surrounding building – or even the air. There are very few ways to gather effective intelligence on them.

Moreover, characters going into the dungeon generally have a “clear it out” mentality. Even if they’ve been hired to retrieve something specific from the dungeon, the genre conventions suggest that the real reward they receive will be from killing the dungeon inhabitants and taking their stuff. In Shadowrun, the monetary reward that Mr. Johnson was offering was usually enough to motivate us. There was a job to do. We go in, do it, and get out. If we happened to see something shiny on the way and grab it, that was gravy.

For this style of play would work with a dungeon, we’d, therefore, need:

  • Multiple possible methods of gathering intelligence on the dungeon. Tavern rumors don’t really cut it.
  • A specific goal within the dungeon.
  • Motivation to complete that goal that, on its own, makes the dungeon delve worthwhile.

These aren’t things that the typical dungeon adventure has, but they could be.



7 Responses

  1. Interesting thoughts.

    When I GMed Shadowrun I loved seeing the various ways my players would track down information. Those lessons could be more easily applied to an urban campaign where a web of contacts could be developed. Though there is no real magical equivilent (in most campaigns) to the matrix which means more legwork.

  2. This sort of gets back to the question of what a "dungeon" is. Best description I've ever heard of it is a location that you're mapping out (usually as you explore it) that contains both combat and non-combat obstacles, as well as a goal you're trying to achieve.

    That definitely covers both Shadowrun infiltration missions and a lot of D&D dungeon crawls (though you're more likely to have a 3D map of your dungeon in Shadowrun.) But by those definitions, those out-of-the-way caves and crypts aren't the only things that count as dungeons. Enemy castles, a wizard's tower, the city's prison, a shipping warehouse — these are busy places with multiple points of entry and exit, various sources of information, and interesting options for MacGuffins (a prisoner to spirit out, something hidden in a crate, intelligence about enemy military deployments – whatever.)

    Seaofstarsrpg is right in that urban campaigns make this much easier (consider how Shadowrun-like adventures in Sharn can be.) And half the time, my shadowrunners were on unpaid missions, gathering leverage to recover from a Johnson trying to screw them. Information and urban campaigns go hand-in-hand…

  3. Oh, I think it is fairly trivial to run a Shadowrun-style game in many urban fantasy settings. Yes, Sharn is practically designed for it.

    Good ideas re: wizards' towers and such.

  4. There's no reason why a lot of the same stuff can't apply. If the dungeon is occupied by any kind of intelligent creatures, then they'll have to make supply runs, even if that means "pillaging the local villages". There may be communication, if the necromancer living in the crypt is sending messages to his allies in the mountains; these could be sent via courier, or some sort of trained animals. There might be an organised guard, in which case there'd be a rota. All of this stuff can be found out through careful observation, just as in Shadowrun.

    Another useful resource is adventuring groups who have had prior experience with the dungeon. This information would have more substance than a standard d20 table of rumours, to the extent of partial maps, breakdown of inhabitants, and so on. Of course, the place may have changed significantly since the last group went in (especially if they were successful in clearing it out), but it's still useful data.

  5. Have you checked out Wraith Recon? It's a 4e supplement that explores a "strike force" kind of game play, and frequently has that structure of "Shadowrun" style missions of get in, grab the target, extract. The one thing it doesn't have is the nagging sense that the Johnson who hired you is going to sell you out or kill you right out. The PCs are military strike team members, not "disposable assets". I'd give it a look.

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